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Sweet Charity

By • West End
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Sweet Charity at the Victoria Palace

With new productions in town like Rent ringing in the new, and Show Boat revelling in the past, the revival of the mid-60s Broadway musical Sweet Charity looks like a surprising anachronism. It's a throwback to a different era - when musicals were star-driven vehicles for their leading players, often created by a single director/choreographer of unique vision, and book rather than song driven.

Sweet Charity exemplifies each of those characteristics. It was created specifically around the talents of Gwen Verdon (who originally played the title role of Charity Hope Valentine) by her then husband Bob Fosse (who was both director and choreographer of the original production). The book was provided by the playwright Neil Simon, to which Cy Coleman's insistently memorable tunes and Dorothy Fields' witty lyrics provide a commentary but are not the main event, which is the story itself. (Though Fosse being Fosse, the main event actually became something else again - both book and music were the hooks to hang his extraordinary dance styles from).

It s refreshing to encounter such solid, old-fashioned, traditional virtues once again, and in such abundance, especially as so faithfully recreated here. The Victoria Palace production, which has come to the West End via a suburban try-out at Bromley's Churchill Theatre, is certainly built around the solid virtues of its star, Bonnie Langford, who - like Verdon - is a dancer who can both sing and act. She fires on all these cylinders and more, to create a terrific performance that really stretches her already abundant talents.

Although elsewhere the production is a little undercast (presumably Britain's best exponents of Fosse's dance are already all tied up in Chicago at the Adelphi), the company is likeable enough. Cornell John as Oscar (the man Charity falls in love with after they are trapped together in a YMCA lift) is quite a discovery.

Fosse's choreography - as recreated by one of his disciples, Chet Walker - is as sensational as ever, particularly in such enticingly stylised sequences as the “Rich Man's Frug” (danced to instrumental music only), and the classic “Rhythm of Life” opener to Act Two, as well as the euphoric “I'm a Brass Band” and the show's signature, “Big Spender”, which implores 'spend a little time with me'. You could do worse than to follow that instruction this summer.

Mark Shenton


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